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How to Spend Wisely on Your Holiday Feast

By Rich Beattie

  • PUBLISHED November 15
  • |
  • 5 MINUTE READ

It’s an iconic American image: A family gathered around a holiday table overflowing with platters of meat, bowls of sides and tins of pies. Recreating that image in your home, of course, requires a lot of prep work—and money.

The cost of all that food? One report tallied it up, and in 2017, the average cost of the classic items on a Thanksgiving dinner table ran to $49.12. The most expensive dish? A 16-pound turkey, at $22.38. And that’s just the cost of the ingredients, not including the time and stress it takes to prepare the meal.

Fortunately, a few simple steps could help you save money on groceries—and even cut down on some of the stress of preparing a big meal for your family. Here are some options.

Use Seasonal Ingredients
Save the blueberry pies for summer, when blueberries are in season—and cheaper. Focus your holiday menu on produce that flourishes during the colder months. Items such as pumpkins, cranberries, sweet potatoes, winter squash, cauliflower and broccoli will most likely be cheaper. And remember, the freezer is your friend: Preparing some dishes early and stashing them there will give you more time to relax on the day itself—just don’t forget to allow time for thawing.

Make It a Potluck
You don’t have to do all the work yourself! Take some of the cost—and pressure—off your plate by asking guests to bring a dish of their choosing, or have them pick something specific from a master menu that you create. Perhaps you prepare the turkey and your guests contribute the side dishes and desserts. Or, if you’d like to make the entire meal, ask guests to show up with eggnog, wine or whatever beverages you’d like, to cut down on the cost of refreshments.

Check the Pantry
You probably have some of the basics already, so you might be able to skip purchasing flour, sugar, butter, chicken stock, olive oil and spices. Make a list of items you need, and before you go shopping, be sure any rarely used ingredients aren’t hiding in the back of a cabinet. If you do need to replace nonperishables, this may be a good time to restock and save by buying them in bulk or on holiday sales.

Bake from Scratch
Without question, using packaged mixes and doughs for things like cookies, cakes and breads is easier and quicker than measuring, kneading and baking yourself. Just remember that those products come with a premium price tag. You’ll save money if you DIY.

Cut Stress with Cooking Alternatives
If stress is a greater concern than money, there’s a simple way to avoid cooking the holiday meal altogether: Outsource it. Yes, you’ll probably spend more money than if you prepare your own meal. But you’ll remove the risk of mishaps (say, overcooking or undercooking the turkey) and you can enjoy the meal without the dread of scrubbing pots later. Your options include:

●    Meal kits. A number of chains can ship complete meals right to your door for a set price, which varies depending on the number of people it feeds. While everything will be fully cooked, some items may arrive frozen, so you’ll still have to allow a couple of hours to heat things up.
●    Catering. Some restaurants and grocery stores can deliver everything you need, all of it ready to eat. The per-person cost and minimum order may come with a high price, but you can often mix and match menu items to get just what you like.
●    Eating out. Not all restaurants are open on big holidays, but some are. Make reservations well in advance, and ask about the cost: Some spots serve only set menus and charge premium prices. While you’ll have to pony up the cash, of course, you won’t have to lift a finger.

Rich Beattie is a former executive digital editor of Travel + Leisure, and has written for outlets such as The New York Times, Popular Science, New York Magazine and Ski.

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